What I Learned at the Blended Learning Conference

Saturday, 13. July 2013

Each day brings new technologies that can shape teaching and learning. Tablets, blogs, moocs, cloud computing, and so on. If history is any guide, some of these technologies will fade away, and some will persist. One innovation which will likely persist is blended learning, which involves combining in-class and online methods of instruction.

The 10th Annual Sloan-C Blended Learning Conference was in Milwaukee this July, and I presented with David Wicks and Vicki Eveland. I also attended several excellent sessions, and here are a few of the things I learned.

Blended LearningComputer Supported Learning – In Europe, educators use alternative terms to describe blended learning, such as computer supported or computer enhanced. Carefully selected titles promote clarity, which is sometimes missing from blended learning, since it has numerous definitions.

Disrupt and Sustain – Blended learning models will disrupt and sustain current approaches to teaching and learning. For example, students requiring daily supervision (e.g. kindergartners) will encounter online technologies blended with in-class activities that sustain traditional instruction. Alternatively, college students living away from campus will take more online classes and attend virtually to disrupt the tradition of seat time.

Learner Characteristics – Assess student characteristics to inform planning a blended course. One of the most important characteristics to assess is the level of student autonomy. For example, 4th grade learners may require more structure in comparison to high school seniors, or college freshman than doctoral students.

Moocs – Early moocs were connectivist (cMooc), taking advantage of social networking applications to link students and teachers interested in the same topic. Alternatively, xMoocs have gotten most of the attention lately, and these include courses administered by Udacity, Coursera, and edX.

Seven Principles for Good Practice – There are numerous models describing effective practice. The article, Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education by Chickering and Gamson (1987) include these:  1) frequent student-teacher contact, 2) cooperative learning, 3) active learning, 4) prompt feedback, 5) time on task, 6) high expectations, and 7) acknowledge diverse ways of learning (Chickering & Gamson’s, 1987). These principles are useful for informing blended learning course design.

Success in Blended Courses – Factors predicting student success in blended courses include 1) previous educational achievement, 2) self-regulation, 3) technical proficiency, 4) engagement with course objectives, and 5) reflective thinking. Some of these factors are also associated with success in conventional settings.

Syllabus Jigsaw – Enable students to reconfigure and contribute to the syllabus (or class plan). The hallmark of standards-based reform are long lists of learning objectives pre-selected for students. Why not let students select a few of the standards for focus, and then decide on the assignment and assessment?

Video Captioning – Write a transcript for online instructional videos and add captions, then make the transcript available for students. Taking this step provides access to hearing impaired learners and also provides additional modes for processing content.